He's not Nebraska's starting QB yet, but Casey Thompson's time is coming
Maybe it’s a motivational ploy.
Perhaps Nebraska is so caught up in installing new coordinator Mark Whipple’s offense that it’s impossible to fully assess players at the moment.
There’s even a chance Scott Frost has simply forgotten how quarterback competitions work, exactly, as it’s been so long since Nebraska has actually had one. He might think he needs more time to figure it out than he actually does.
Or maybe Frost is merely preventing a quarterback exodus into the transfer portal.
But when he claimed earlier this week that the Cornhuskers don’t have a starting quarterback yet, I took it with more than one grain of salt. It’s not that he’s lying, exactly. But it would take an M. Night Shyamalan-caliber twist for this competition not to reach its inevitable conclusion.
“The timetable is whenever it’s clear to us and to everybody,” Frost said of when he will name a starter. “There’s a lot of guys doing some good things, but we’re nowhere near ready to make an announcement yet.”
I do believe the part where Frost is not ready to make an announcement yet. The only question is the precise reason for that. Because there’s a chance that Casey Thompson, the touted transfer from Texas, is going to make it clear to everybody as soon as Nebraska’s spring game on Saturday.
Based on what each quarterback has already accomplished, Thompson is a clear favorite over competitors Chubba Purdy and Logan Smothers.
There’s no substitute for experience
Thompson didn’t take over as Texas’ starter last year until Week 3, but he went on to lead the Big 12 with 24 touchdown passes. He also finished 4th in passer rating and yards per attempt. And that was in what has become a vastly improved conference for defensive football. The Big 12 featured 2 top-10 and 4 top-25 scoring defenses.
By point of comparison, the Big Ten had 5 top-25 defenses, though 4 of those were top-10 units. But Thompson’s competition was not nearly as soft as the Big 12 label would have most fans think.
Against Baylor’s No. 10 scoring defense, Thompson was 23-of-38 for 280 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. Not phenomenal, but certainly good enough to win a game like that in many instances.
Purdy and Smothers don’t even compare when it comes to the number of snaps they’ve played.
Purdy made 1 career start as a freshman in 2020, going 15-of-23 for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His only appearance last season was in mop-up duty against UMass, which helps explain why he entered the portal in the first place.
Smothers played in 6 games as a freshman but only saw extended time when he started for the injured Adrian Martinez in the season-finale against Iowa.
There were certainly some flashes of promise against the Hawkeyes that made you think Smothers was poised to be the guy in 2022.
Smothers was decent in the air, going 16-of-22 for 198 yards, though an interception clouded his starting debut. But he really got it done on the ground, gaining 64 yards and 2 touchdowns on 24 carries.
But all of that happened before the Huskers brought in Thompson, whose availability was somewhat unexpected. All indicators were that Thompson would be Texas’ starter again in 2022. But that was before former 5-star prospect Quinn Ewers jumped ship from Ohio State and transferred to Austin.
Thompson read the writing on the wall even better than he can read a defense, and found an obvious suitor in Nebraska.
Why Scott Frost needs a veteran
Under regular circumstances, Nebraska wouldn’t need to bring in a pair of transfers for this quarterback competition. Perhaps Purdy would have been a suitable pick to give Smothers a run throughout training camp.
There’s always a danger in reading too deeply into single-game performances, because defenses don’t have much to work with. But Smothers certainly did enough against the Hawkeyes to warrant a shot at starting full-time as a sophomore.
Such a season would be filled with ups and downs, though. Realistically, it would be a bridge toward making Nebraska a contender to win the Big Ten West in 2023 and ’24.
Frost doesn’t have that kind of time. Thompson knows this. Surely it factored into his choosing the Huskers.
Frost’s contract has already been restructured. Reaching a bowl game seems a bare minimum for assuring himself of more years coaching his alma mater. And a quarterback who is wet behind the ears isn’t going to get that accomplished.
Scott Frost may not be ready to announce his starter. But in his heart, he must already know Casey Thompson is his ride or die at Nebraska.